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Behind the Ride: 5 Mind-Bending Tricks Employed by Star Tours: The Adventures Continue

3. The Experience: Recreating parts of the Star Wars universe to the satisfaction of hardcore fans

The Trick: Picking the right combination of Star Wars favorites

Image © Disney

The problem Imagineers faced after narrowing their focus to the appropriate number of ride options was picking the correct ones. The designers presented George Lucas with a Story Matrix entitled Star Tours 3.5. It is largely the one in use today.

The Story Matrix offers two options during the introduction, an encounter with Darth Vader or Storm Troopers. Then, it randomizes a trip to Tattooine, Hoth or Kashyyyk. If you’re not familiar with Kashyyyk, it’s also known as Wookiee World. Its inclusion was suggested by none other than Pixar’s John Lassester. The implementation of Kashyyyk is particularly fun for Imagineers, because it’s a creation of a world that is largely not seen in the films. So, they had more freedom with it than with the well-established planets of Tattooine and Hoth.

After you reach one of the three planets, there are three people you may interact with: Yoda, Admiral Ackbar, or Princess Leia, creating a total of nine divergent branches for the ride during this phase. Two of those encounters go better than the other one. Finally, you travel to one of three ultimate destinations: Coruscant, Naboo, or the Death Star. So, in a perfect world, you run into Darth Vader, decipher the backwards talk of Yoda, and narrowly escape a Death Star. If everything goes wrong, you meet Storm Trooper flunkies, look at Ackbar’s HD-unfriendly face, and try to avoid thinking of the quote, “Hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo,” as you exit the ride. The sheer volume of possibilities is remarkable.

4. The Experience: Filming new Star Wars moments

The Trick: Trusting the wizardry of Team Lucas

Image © Disney

With The Adventure Continues, Disney employees met with Lucas every three weeks, a stark contrast to the first version where Lucas only participated in only a handful of meetings. His input paid particular dividends with regards to making the ride more user-friendly. The Star Wars creator queried Imagineers about whether a person could participate more directly in the ride. He suggested that the ride capture an image of a random guest, enabling them to become part of a show by getting inserted into the movie. It’s the dream of so many Star Wars fans to become a part of the universe, and they can do just that in Star Tours II expressly thanks to Lucas’ suggestion.

Of course, there was a lot more to developing the ride than this. Disney had to film key scenes in order to create new action sequences. Stunt people in costumes had to bring life to the new ideas from the Star Tours II script. My favorite is that there is video of a Wookiee hitting a windshield, as shown on the set. At some developer conferences, Imagineers display it to help the viewer understand what it looks like when a guy in a glorified cosplay outfit charges at a camera during principal photography. It’s utterly ridiculous to watch. Then, they reveal the same effect as how it looks during The Adventure Continues thanks to a bit of film magic. You can see the final result at roughly the 1:20 mark of this video. As we learned once again with the debut of a new Star Wars trailer, every second of original Star Wars footage is examined as carefully as the Zapruder Film. The fact that Disney received authorization to film this much Star Wars footage with the blessing of George Lucas is amazing.

5. The Experience: Crafting a better pre-show

The Trick: Enhancing and evolving an established classic

Image © Disney

The invention of the FastPass caused some frustration for Imagineers. The original design of Star Tours was predicated upon show times. Each ride kept to a specific schedule. So, they could control the amount of time needed for pre-show interactions with Star Tours. Once FastPasses changed all that, some park guests found themselves waiting in line for more than 10 minutes, a longer period than anticipated by Imagineers.

With Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, Disney employees took a more forward thinking approach. They planned for extended visitation time in the pre-show, understanding that even if guests were stuck there for an hour, entertainment options should distract them for a lot of the time. In order to achieve this goal, they went back to basics.

The core concept of Star Tours is that it’s the Star Wars universe’s equivalent to an airport. It’s a launching pad to any tourist destination in existence. What changed in terms of airport travel in the interim between Star Tours and Star Tours II? Security. So, some of the old favorites from the first iteration such as G2-9T and G2-4T, previously worker droids, transferred over as security bots.

Since the Lucas-founded Industrial Lights & Magic always enjoys original opportunities to play in the sandbox, they too got involved. As usual, they also overachieved. Pay attention to their little touches throughout the pre-show area. For instance, note the droids in charge of windshield wiping. They need instructions on the best way to proceed. Since ILM had an internal debate about this, they offered several versions, all of which are incorporated into the pre-show functionality. It’s almost a prelude to the multitude of random events in The Adventure Continues itself.

Along those lines, a different pilot was requested as a dramatic change from skittish Rex as voiced by Pee Wee Herman in Star Tours. A gung ho pilot named Ace was intended to replace him as captain. There was even a competition among Imagineers to come up with the winning look for Ace. All of that was rendered irrelevant when Lucas suggested that the stark contrast between Ace and Rex was too dramatic. He determined that Disney should unearth another option to captain the ship. Amusingly, one was right under everyone’s nose. One employee had the epiphany that nervous flights were kind of C-3PO’s thing, and Lucas adored the idea. So, a Star Wars favorite was incorporated in lieu of a new character. Still, Imagineers loved Ace so much that he (?) is a staple of the pre-show routine.

The other major change involved sound quality. Composer John Williams let people know that he was a huge fan of the ride. He told Lucas and Lucas told Disney, who was thrilled to bring him onboard. It was the first time Williams ever worked with Disney. In addition, composer Michael Giacchino, who is already only a Tony away from an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award), is also a huge fan of Star Wars. He asked to handle the pre-show, and he created what he describes as travelogue versions of many classic Star Wars sounds. If you can, try to listen to some of these greatest hits during the hectic, loud pre-show sequence. With Williams and Giacchino handling the sounds, The Adventures Continue makes the audio in the original Star Tours sound like an eight-bit videogame.

One final touch in the pre-show is something you can explore during your ride wait. There are several hidden enhancements placed in plain sight for the alert guest. They include some of WALL-E’s prized possessions (including the plant!), some of Captain EO’s robots, a representation of Madame Leota, some audio shout-outs to people such as Lucas, his film THX 1138, a Disney fireworks show, a hidden Mickey (natch), and even a competing movie universe’s Starship Enterprise. The best enhancement of all is subtle, though. There is an image of a carbonite prison slab containing Jar Jar Binks, fulfilling the dream of yousa and meesa.

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